WHAT HAPPENED SUNDAY On the counsel of her Vulcan stepfather Sarek (James Frain), the first officer of a Federation starship, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) wants to attack a threatening Klingon force first because that will gain their respect. But Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) insists instead on an olive branch. “We come in peace,” she tells a Klingon warlord. He has not, and a battle ensues — although not before Burnham attempts a mutiny. By the end of the second hour, Burnham is court martialed, while a war with the Klingons has begun.
MY SAY Altogether now, Trekkers: You may officially . . . exhale. After twelve years, three blockbuster movies, a lot of fan speculation and the departure of one prominent showrunner (Bryan Fuller), “Star Trek” has finally returned to the small screen — arguably where it belonged all along. In a packed two-hour premiere Sunday — the first episode aired on CBS, the second one streamed on CBS All Access (where you’ll pay to watch all subsequent episodes) — “Discovery” introduced a compelling new hero, an even more compelling new alien, and a whole new war. But mostly it did negligible damage to a revered franchise and its legacy. “Discovery” is perfectly fine.
Fine enough to get Trekkers to pony up $5.99 a month to watch this first season ($9.99 for the commercial-free version) on CBS All Access? That’s a private discussion they must have between themselves and their wallets. But Sunday did not quite clinch the sale. Special effects were adequate, though hardly groundbreaking. The Klingon-Federation faceoff seemed too conspicuously modeled on real-world geopolitical strife. “Trek” fans like and expect those real-world tangents — just not hand-delivered and gift-wrapped. Martin-Green’s good but her Burnham badly needs more dimensions beyond the two (logical/compulsive) we saw Sunday.
But here’s something critics know that you don’t. CBS screened the Oct. 1 episode for them late last week, and it both improves upon Sunday’s while adjusting viewer expectations at the same time. Burnham meets up with the captain of another starship — yes, the ship whose name is in the title — and he’s either a treacherous malefactor or benevolent idealist. The actor playing this mysterious Gabriel Lorca — Jason Isaacs — also happens to be a major talent who instantly lifts Martin-Green’s game. These two appear to be a winning, multidimensional combo. “Discovery” gets down to business — and becomes the series it really wants to be — next week.
Meanwhile, there’s that new alien, Lt. Saru (Doug Jones). With pea-soup eyes and deeply crenelated face, he’s a welcome addition to the “Trek” canon. May he live long and prosper. May “Discovery” as well.
THE SERIES “Star Trek: Discovery”
WHEN|WHERE Streaming on CBS All Access